Pros and Cons of Red Ranger Chickens vs. Cornish Cross Chickens

Two Common Breeds When You Raise Chickens for Meat

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Red Ranger and Cornish Cross at 4 weeks old

When it comes to choosing which meat chickens to raise, there are several options available. Broilers such as the Cornish Cross chicken and the Red Ranger chicken generally are the most popular as they efficiently and quickly convert their food to meat, while yielding a heavier dressed bird than heritage breeds. Both are hybrids. They are the offspring of two different breeds carefully selected for specific genetic characteristics, each with their own attributes depending on what the consumer needs based on their goals for their flock.

 

Cornish Rock

The Cornish Rock, or Cornish Cross (X) as they are commonly referred to is the most popular meat chicken breed in the United States. Designed for large-scale poultry operations, the breed is known for its quick growth rate, and its ability to be raised in confined settings, making it popular among small farms and homesteaders alike.

The Cornish Cross is immediately recognizable with its sparse white feathers and exaggerated wide leg stance. These physical characteristics are a direct result of tailoring the breed for specific qualities and rapid growth. The limited feathering makes plucking easier when processing, while the widened leg stance allows them to compensate for their front-heavy stature. Creating an insatiable appetite to increase the broiler’s growth rate, however, has its consequences. The breed is notorious for being genetically predisposed to health issues of the skeletal and cardiovascular systems. Internal systems struggle to keep up with the accelerated growth, making these birds prone to leg and heart issues.

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Cornish Cross Chicken at six weeks.

Foraging, a behavior associated with most breeds, is not typically associated with Cornish Cross chickens. Birds that walk around looking for an alternate food source require more space and burn calories in the process. This requires more food to replace calories lost and slows the growth rate. The Cornish Cross chicken was designed for one purpose: to gain as much weight possible in the shortest period of time. It excels at this! No other breed can come close. Undesired characteristics, such as foraging, have been bred out. Cornish Cross is a bird that is content living a sedentary life. This does not mean that a Cornish Cross raised on pasture will not forage at all, it just won’t make up a major portion of the diet. Based on my observations, they are moderately active when they are young and it is easier for them to get around. But, as they put on weight and struggle more to walk, they become much more sedentary and choose to lay in front of the feeder and eat in lieu of a foraged diet.

Overall, Cornish Cross chickens are typically processed between eight to 10 weeks of age and dress out between five to eight pounds. These numbers can vary depending on the protein content of their feed, the quantity of feed given, and the amount of space provided to roam. The Cornish Cross is also known for its distribution of meat. With a high consumer demand for boneless skinless chicken breast, greater emphasis is being placed on white meat. No other broiler on the market shares this quality, furthering its popularity.

Red Ranger

Red Ranger chickens are becoming increasingly popular as an alternate option for people that want more natural looking and behaving meat chickens while maintaining a moderate growth rate. These birds are favored among those who raise free-range or pastured broilers because of their excellent foraging abilities and overall hardiness. The Red Ranger closely resembles some sex link breeds physically, with its red and brown feathers and thick yellow legs. Unlike the Cornish Cross, Red Ranger chickens are fully feathered which makes them more difficult to pluck. It does, however, make them more suited for outdoor living environments, as they are a hardy breed that can withstand extreme cold and heat, unlike their counterpart.

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Red Ranger foraging on ferns and other greens.

Many of the natural behaviors associated with chickens have been preserved within the Red Ranger breed. Most notably, they make excellent foragers, allowing people to save on food costs. I give mine unlimited access to grass and grubs which dramatically cuts down on the amount of commercial feed I have to buy. This does, however, slow their growth rate, as they are very active burning calories in search of food. Because I have a designated coop and pasture for them, I don’t have a timeline that I am up against to have them processed. So to me, the amount of time that it takes them to grow to market weight isn’t an issue like it may be to some. If this is a concern, limiting either their foraging space or time foraging is an alternative option to allow them to grow quicker.

The recommended earliest processing age for Red Ranger chickens is 11 weeks, yielding a smaller dressed weight of four to five pounds on average. Like the Cornish Cross, this greatly varies with the protein content of their feed, and more importantly, how much the birds are allowed to forage. Because they aren’t predisposed to health issues, they can be kept well past the eleven-week mark if you’re looking for a larger roasting chicken. However, unlike the Cornish Cross, the distribution of meat throughout the Red Ranger’s body is proportional to its legs, yielding a smaller breast size.

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Red Ranger and Cornish Cross at six weeks old. Cornish is noticeably larger, mainly in the breast with a widened leg stance to compensate.

There are many pros and cons to raising both the Cornish Cross and Red Ranger breeds for meat, and the choice of breed is personal preference. For someone who is looking to raise a broiler with a lot of white meat, or who may have limited space available, the Cornish Cross is an ideal fit. However, if you have ample space and want to raise a more natural broiler with a highly foraged diet, then the Red Ranger is a great option. No breed, however, is without its shortcomings. No matter how much space you have to raise your own broiler chickens, or what your preference is, there are options available to fulfill your needs.

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Day-old Cornish Cross Chicken (left) and Red Ranger Chicken (right)

What’s your preference; Cornish Rock or Red Ranger chickens? Join in the conversation below.

Quick Facts: Cornish Cross vs. Red Ranger
FEATHER COLOR AVG. SLAUGHTER AGE AVG. DRESS WEIGHT HARDINESS HEALTH FORAGING ABILITIES SPACE REQUIREMENT
Cornish Cross White, sparse feathering 8-10 weeks* 5-8 pounds* Not Weather Hardy Prone to health issues: Legs and Heart Limited Foragers Sedentary, do well with limited space
Red Ranger Red-Brown, fully feathered 11-14 weeks* 4-5 pounds* Heat and Cold Hardy Not Prone to Specific Health Issues Excellent Foragers Active, require space to forage
*Numbers are averages and can vary depending on environmental factors
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Comments
  • I’ve raised Cornish Cross before. I butchered at 9 weeks, and my birda all dressed out between 6-8 lbs.you are right about one thing for certain: These birds are eating machines! That said, I will go back to this breed if I decide to raise meat birds again. With limited space, it’s a great choice.

    Reply
  • I raise rainbow or red rangers. I butcher at 16 weeks & a rooster will DRESS at 9#. I see no point in raising broilers that dress at 4#. Also, I keep the ranger hens for eggs & breeding as the ranger hens & roosters will live & reproduce just fine for 6 years or more

    Reply
    • I noticed your comment on red rangers breeding for six years. Since they are hybrid chickens do chicks bred by you retain the good growth rate of their “parents”. Ive been raising cornish crosses for years and am trying to find a breed that grow well but pasture and can be used more like chickens, rather than penned animals. thank you if you take time to respond, am truly interested.

      Reply
  • I switched from Cornish to red ranger. I would lose so many Cornish. Thier legs would just give out on them.

    Reply
  • been raising cornish for the table but am having trouble the last two years with them dying about 2 weeks to butcher, am thinking of switching to red rangers

    Reply
  • is there a reason why i am having trouble with that in the past two years, been doing this for 20 years any suggestions

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  • This was the LAST year for me raising Cornish! I lost almost all of them before butcher date. Disgusting. I will definitely be trying the Rangers next year.

    Reply
  • I’ve raised both and find that the extra time on the Rangers I’d well worth it. They are hardier and easier to manange. The are however a fairly aggressive breed and so do not integrate well with our egg flock. But, I keep mine in a separate pen and they do fine.

    I was losing too many of the cornish-x (25-30%). And by the time they were hutcheering weight, you almost feel that killing them is a kindness.

    Reply
  • I raised meat birds for the first time last year. Not sure what kind to get, I raised some of each for a total of 85 birds. They were branded for the small hatchery we bought them from so they are Sunnyside Rangers instead of Red or Freedom Rangers. We lost about 12% overall. More Rangers were lost when they were young and more CX when they were older.

    I found the CX disgusting until I put them on pasture with the Rangers. Then they turned into chickens instead of insatiable, gluttonous poop machines. I scattered the feeders around the pasture and they moved around just fine. I let the feeders go empty sometimes, and then they foraged. They grew and dressed out as advertised and I gave no complaints.

    Still, I am a Ranger fan because I love the quality and taste of the meat. We had a group of 20 that we held over from the primary harvest because they were on the small side. They were over 20 weeks and the hens were laying when we finally butchered them. They taste so good. Firm yet tender flesh – roasted not stewed. They have great muscular definition so I as a newbie find them easy to break down. And their sturdy, hard bones make the most yummy and rich bone broth.

    We held over three hens and a unique looking roo that was inadvertently named. The hens are great layers of larger, creamy colored eggs. One hen that is recovering from a Brahma rooster attack indoors is laying daily for me. I don’t find my Rangers to be aggressive at all. In fact, while the roo is generally indifferent to my presence, the hens are probably my friendliest birds – even more so than my Buff Orpingtons. They integrated into my laying flock without issue (bully Brahma roo excepted).

    All my Rangers have problems with messy butts because they have a hard time roosting, even on low roosts. Also, although the roo looks after the hens diligently, he has gotten so large I doubt he could service them. But we’ll see. I’ll try incubating some eggs in the spring to see what I get.

    Reply
  • Thank you for this article. Our kids are in 4-H and we have been researching the Ranger breed for them to show as a meat bird. Since we live at 8500+ feet above sea level, we have read the CX would likely not survive at that altitude along with all their other health problems. It also breaks my heart to see these birds at Fair each year; as one poster commented, it is almost doing them a favor by butchering. They pant, lie around and can barely move. I am now encouraged even more that the Rangers will work best for our situation and ways of doing things. Thanks again to all those who provided input.

    Reply

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Pros and Cons of Red Ranger Chickens vs. Cornish Cross Chickens

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